Ten Tips for Condo Buyers

  1. Square footage can be measured any number of ways in condominium plans. Don't believe numbers presented to you. If exact measure is important, carry a measuring tape, and work consistently from the inside measure of condo apartments. Divide the asking price by the number of square feet to arrive at dollar-per-foot costs that you can compare.

  2. Parking can be an uncovered stall, a covered stall, indoors but unheated or indoors heated and secured. Its legal status can be either assigned common-area space, or legally-titled ownership. If it is assigned, it should be protected by a formal lease agreement.

  3. Construction of condominiums can vary dramatically. Concrete obviously is more long lasting and generally quieter than frame construction, but "post-tensioned" concrete construction can have problems requiring maintenance. Concrete transmits tapping sounds, while wood-frame buildings can quiver slightly under heavy footsteps. Quality will be your best investment, and I can identify the construction types and any sound issues as you shop.

  4. Conversion of rental buildings to condominium ownership has created both opportunities and pitfalls. Some older high-quality concrete buildings have become condos at very affordable prices. As well, some well-built wood-frame rental buildings are being sold as condo apartments at prices that compete with the cost of renting! Yet some low-quality rental buildings converted to condominium ownership are simply not worth buying into.

  5. Heating is an important issue in condo buildings. In apartment condos it is usually central hot-water heat, which means the cost is absorbed by your monthly condo fees. Older hot-water heating systems can at times be noisy, but I still prefer it! Electric heat is convenient, quiet and controllable in each room, but it's expensive. New in-floor radiant hot-water heat is wonderful for warm toes, but if you turn the temperature down, it takes a while to respond.

  6. Renters will be found in any condo building, as renting of units can no longer be prohibited by condo bylaws in Alberta. That's good for your flexibility as an owner, but find out how many renters are in the building. If it's primarily renters, largely investors own the building, and they may not share your standards of operation and maintenance. You may also find less of a sense of community in the building and on the board of directors.

  7. Age mix of owners might seem a strange consideration, but if you're a yuppie, do you want to live in a retirement home? And if you're enjoying a quiet retirement, you probably want neighbors you can relate to and make friends with. In short, condominium projects can become small communities where—if you choose the right one—you can make many friends and enjoy an in-house social life.

  8. Condo documents are necessary to evaluate any condominium project before you buy. Sellers should have them on hand for you to review on site, and if you have an agreement to purchase, they should be handed to you without hesitation. These include the Condominium Plan, financial statements and budget, the reserve fund study, minutes of the recent annual general meeting and even board meeting minutes, so you have insight into how the complex is being run. If you purchase, your lawyer will obtain an estoppel certificate before closing, which will guarantee no surprises in the monthly condo fee or charges owed by the seller.

  9. Orientation of the condo is important if it's an apartment facing only one direction, less so if it's a townhouse or duplex bungalow condominium with more exposures. How much sun does the home receive, and is that sun hitting your bedroom windows at 5 a.m. during the summer? You may prefer it, or you might hate it, so be aware of which way/s a home faces and whether it will be bright enough, too hot or too dark for your needs.

  10. Real estate agents may be licensed to sell condominiums as well as houses, but do they know what they're doing? Use a Realtor who has taken condominium courses. If s/he has a real interest in condominium ownership, s/he will be a member of the Canadian Condominium Institute. If you are buying, Realtor services are at no cost to you, as the selling party pays commission, so you might as well receive qualified representation and advice. Whether buying or selling, you want nothing less than top-quality condominium credentials, ability, experience and market knowledge from your Realtor.